|ONE OF LITERATURE'S GREATEST LIVING TALENTS AT THE HEIGHT OF HER POWERS' SUNDAY TELEGRAPH
'Lock Cromwell in a deep dungeon in the morning, says Thomas More, and when you come back that night he'll be sitting on a plush cushion eating larks' tongues, and all the gaolers will owe him money.
England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years, and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe oppose him. The quest for the petulant king's freedom destroys his advisor, the brilliant Cardinal Wolsey, and leaves a power vacuum and a deadlock.
Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell. Son of a brutal blacksmith, a political genius, a briber, a bully and a charmer, Cromwell has broken all the rules of a rigid society in his rise to power, and is prepared to break some more. Rising from the ashes of personal disaster - the loss of his young family and of Wolsey, his beloved patron - he picks his way deftly through a court where 'man is wolf to man. Pitting himself against parliament, the political establishment and the papacy, he is prepared to reshape England to his own and Henry's desires.
From one of our finest living writers, Wolf Hall is that very rare thing: a truly great English novel, one that explores the intersection of individual psychology and wider politics. With a vast array of characters, and richly overflowing with incident, it peels back history to show us Tudor England as a half-made society, moulding itself with great passion and suffering and courage.
Hilary Mantel is the author of eleven books, including A Place of Greater Safety, Giving Up the Ghost and, most recently, Bevand Black, which was shortlisted for the 2006 Orange Prize,